Biti wants PBO for fiscal discipline

Finance minister Tendai Biti has proposed the establishment of a parliamentary budget office to enforce fiscal discipline in the government and rein-in ballooning expenditure by the Cabinet and the Office of the President.

Tendai Biti
Tendai Biti

The PBO, a welcome and overdue reform, is expected to keep in check spiralling expenditure by the executive which Biti has admitted he has been powerless to stop.

Biti first advanced the idea in the Budget Strategy Paper he tabled in Parliament last week. Legislators who support it include Zanu (PF) Goromonzi North MP Paddy Zhanda.

Biti said Cabinet and the Office of Cabinet had blown $40 million on foreign travel alone in the first half of this year. Mugabe returned from his seventh trip to Singapore two weeks ago. Each trip cost the taxpayer $3million, and has so far gobbled up $21 million of the budget.

Part of the push for a PBO is coming from right-wing economists and diplomats who want the MDC minister to establish an alternative source of economic advice to the executive. This is only partly because of the recent smear campaign directed at the Treasury, which may yet have some long-term consequences for Biti.

"I want to say that one of the things that we are thinking of is to amend the Public Finance Management Act so that we can set up here at Parliament,” Biti told the Assembly. “Government expenditure has really become the elephant in the living room as far as cash budgeting is concerned. Our people do not understand money, more so the US dollar. Our people think that money grows on trees or that we have a pot somewhere in the Ministry of Finance. It does not happen that way.”

Critics say the plan smacks of bureaucratic empire-building. They fear the Budget Office will need to employ economists and will be an additional burden on the taxpayer.

The idea that an independent source of economic and fiscal advice would provide the last word on policy and economic debates is fanciful, said economic commentator Danisa Ndlovu.

Biti said the budget could perform well if profligate spending was reined-in. He said the budget was doing well in terms of revenue, but expenditure was too high mainly because of the penchant for travel by ministers and Mugabe.

Biti said he was expecting a Vote of Credit from donors in next year's budget.

Post published in: News

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